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Gabrielle MacKenzie at her home in Gatineau, where she rents rooms to other ‘active and engaging seniors interested in an unconventional way of living.’Blair Gable/Blair Gable Photography

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In Tales from the Golden Age, retirees talk about their spending, savings and whether life after work is what they expected.

Gabrielle MacKenzie, 74, Gatineau

I stopped working full-time in my late 40s after decades of toiling primarily in unconventional and insecure jobs and being involved in a couple of unsuccessful business ventures.

In my early 20s, I dropped out of university and enjoyed a hippie commune lifestyle in Ottawa. My first two jobs were as an administrative assistant, but boredom drove me to quit, and I got involved in constructing and operating a sports facility. It took three years to build and one year of operation to fail. Then, at age 29, instead of securing my future, I decided to travel internationally on the men’s pro tennis circuit as an “athletic supporter” to my then-boyfriend.

When I returned home at 33 I needed a job and started a clothing design and manufacturing company with a friend. My home, where I lived with multiple roommates, became a factory with 15 employees. It operated successfully for nine years until its demise – a victim of the recession in the 1990s. I was 42 and penniless with no qualifications or pension.

Then I started working as a waitress in an Ottawa bar and found an agent who was able to secure me some acting jobs on the side – small movie parts, including low-budget horror, recurring TV characters, voice work, commercials and even stunt work. Unfortunately, Hollywood wasn’t calling; 40 is ancient, especially for women, but it paid the bills, which were minimal, thanks to my fondness for having roommates and vintage belongings.

At that time, I also joined the cast of BigTime Murder, a successful Ottawa-based comedic dinner-theatre company. I have worked there part-time for more than 30 years now, travelling locally, across Canada and internationally. It’s endlessly amusing and tops up my tiny government pension, which barely feeds a chihuahua.

My salvation was the purchase of a bargain mansion when I was in my mid-40s. I scraped together a downpayment using a chunk of savings from my acting gigs and a small loan from a childhood friend (whom I paid back within three years). I also got a loan from a private mortgage company, which recognized that I would be receiving rental income from several tenants who would be living with me. I still live in that home and continue to have various tenants who, like me, have evolved from hippies to a group of active and engaging seniors interested in an unconventional way of living that’s fun and extremely economical for us all.

Retirement is busy for me between my acting gigs and managing the house. My boyfriend, who lives with me, is skilled in ongoing maintenance. When I have free time, I like to paint huge colourful works that also serve as excellent disguises for walls needing repair. I also have a few amusing writing projects including a funny memoir, The Significance of Being a Nobody, about living life secure in the knowledge that nobody really cares what you had for lunch.

I have been fortunate to accumulate a tiny investment portfolio over the years and even luckier to have found a sympathetic adviser to manage it for me. I think sound advice and management from a professional are essential. The markets are volatile and, unless you’re well-informed, you might just as well go to the casino.

While I sometimes worry about the markets and the rising cost of living, it’s important not to become paralyzed by fear. Be cautious of falling into the folly of commercialism and acquiring unnecessary things; they won’t make you happy.

Despite my appalling irresponsibility over the years, I feel very fortunate. My advice to other seniors is to stay active and engaged with life. Do things that scare you; it’s an antidote to aging.

As told to Brenda Bouw

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Are you a Canadian retiree interested in discussing what life is like now that you’ve stopped working? The Globe is looking for people to participate in its Tales from the Golden Age feature, which examines the personal and financial realities of retirement. If you’re interested in being interviewed for this feature, and agree to use your full name and have a photo taken, please e-mail us at: Please include a few details about how you saved and invested for retirement and what your life is like now.

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